Elegy for love

Melisande! What Are Dreams?, by Hillel Halkin, Granta, RRP£14.99, 224 pages

Hillel Halkin’s deeply affecting love story begins with the sort of adolescent love triangle so beloved of Julian Barnes.

In 1950s New York, three students work together on their high school literary magazine. Hoo will one day become a professor of classical literature. His friend Ricky idolises Dostoevsky and is drawn to a wayfarer’s life, free of all possessions. Completing the trio is the beautiful Melisande, a compass trapped between two magnets.

Years later, Hoo, now in his 40s, writes to Melisande. His book-length love letter is also an elegy for the woman he has lost and for youthful dreams tempered by experience.

This is a strange fictional debut for a writer who has made his reputation as a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs in magazines such as The New Republic.

But the writing is pitch perfect – filled with quiet wisdom, and laced with nostalgia yet never cloying. The idiosyncratic title, in case you’re wondering, is a quote from Heine.

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